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Holistic Corporate Social Responsibility and Humanitarian Aid


September 20, 2011

1st Aid Blog Forum: Corporate Social Responsibility

Doug Hadden, VP Products

“Corporate Social Responsibility is here to stay. It’s part of the global humanitarian context, for better and/or for worse. As humanitarian relief and development professionals we have to deal with CSR.”

The Talesfromthehood humanitarian aid blog (@talesfromthhood)

Is CSR a fad?

These are early days for corporate social responsibility. Some businesses are seeking new ways of philanthropy. And some are leveraging CSR as marketing. Cynics either view CSR as an unneeded cost for shareholders or as another way business pulls the wool over our eyes.

Fake CSR and philanthropy are first phases of the maturing of corporate social responsibility.

Holistic CSR: CSR as Important Outcome

Businesses will move from “feel-good” philanthropy to where CSR will be an important business outcome. The bad news for humanitarian aid professionals: businesses will demand output and outcome reporting. Things that can be scorecarded, charted and presented in the annual report. Data that can show improvements on a quarter by quarter basis. This isn’t going to be pretty because humanitarian work does not easily operated on a quarterly basis. Outcomes are especially hard to measure in humanitarian aid as it is with any social impact.

The good news is that businesses will begin to see CSR in a more holistic manner. Businesses as an actor in society. My sense is that business will see humanitarian aid as one pillar to a more holistic view that includes:

  • Leveraging business innovation to develop products and services designed to enable humanitarian aid, give early warning or help eliminate conditions that generate crisis
  • Global supply chain concerns that will move beyond fair trade to supporting innovation in developing countries that improve the cultural understanding by businesses
  • Networking with like-minded organizations where businesses will leverage core competencies

CSR as Business Model

The CSR discussion is somewhat dominated by large businesses. This phenomenon can hide the impact of a fundamentally new model – the social enterprise. For profit social enterprises are less risk adverse than traditional non profits. And, these businesses are driven to innovate in order to compete globally. Profit acts as validation as one pillar of triple bottom line reporting.

FreeBalance is a social enterprise bringing good governance to governments around the world. CSR is our business model. And, we have traditional CSR activities as well – primarily the support of SOS Children’s Villages and World Read Aloud Day in the countries where we do business. We also hire locally to build capacity in public financial management.

So, FreeBalance is not specifically in the humanitarian aid business. Public financial management assists in country development. Good government fiscal management can help governments to mitigate social issues and respond more effectively to disasters.

Our lessons for those businesses looking to assist humanitarian aid is:

  • Lead from the top, listen to the bottom. Senior management must set the stage for social responsibility and then get out of the way and listen to employees.
  • Consider aid organizations and aid recipients as customers. Leverage business techniques for customer innovation and customer support that have helped your organization to succeed.
  • Build the multicultural footprint of your company. People from different cultures and backgrounds will help build your business globally and provide you with better perspective on how you can truly help.
  • If you are a traditional business, consider building an innovation centre to re-purpose your products and services for humanitarian aid.
  • Use social media – it’s the best learning tool.



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Doug Hadden

Doug Hadden

Executive Vice President, Innovation at FreeBalance
Doug is responsible for identifying new global markets, new technologies and trends, and new and enhanced internal processes. Doug leads a cross-functional international team that is responsible for developing product prototypes and innovative go-to-market strategies.

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